Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem tartrate, a sedative-hypnotic. When you take Ambien correctly, it can make you feel relaxed, comfortable and sleepy. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency classifies the prescription drug Ambien as a Schedule IV drug;1 this means that you cannot possess or use the drug without a prescription from a doctor.
The reason that the Drug Enforcement Agency regulates this drug is because it’s potentially dangerous. Misuse of Ambien can cause dependence and other side effects.
Those with severe insomnia are the only ones who should take Ambien, and those patients must visit a doctor to obtain a prescription. Ambien is only indicated for relief of insomnia for up to 35 days.2
The continued use of Ambien can result in tolerance to its effects. When this occurs, and rebound insomnia intensifies, people frequently resort to increasing the prescribed dose of medication – a practice that can result in some serious repercussions.Ambien: Sweet Dreams or Total Nightmare?
Depending on the time of night, and dose of Ambien that is being taken, residual effects of the drug may persist through the next day. Some users claim that these effects resemble a hangover from a night of heavy drinking. One can suffer from the following for several hours after waking the next morning:2
- Memory loss.
- Persistent drowsiness.
- Gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea.
Additionally, there are numerous reports of somnambulism (sleepwalking) and a bizarre phenomenon known as night eating syndrome—or sleep eating—that may occur, especially in the context of multiple doses.2
Doctors refer to a specific disorder associated with the medication as paradoxical excitation, which refers to the way in which some individuals who’ve taken Ambien exhibit unusual behavior while using the drug; some people drive a car, eat or walk in a sleep state.2 They are not aware of their movements, and they won’t remember what happened—often, they don’t find out until someone tells them when they are awake or they are faced with the consequences, e.g., finding out they’ve been in a car accident.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, other side effects of Ambien include:
- Light headed feelings.
- Trouble walking.
- Problems with balance.
- Stomach cramps.
- Weak feelings.
- Appetite changes.
- Redness of the eyes.
- Joint pain.
- Muscle pain.
Dangerous Cocktails: Combining Ambien with Other Drugs
Mixing Ambien with other substances like alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines is very dangerous.
- Almost 20,000 overdoses involving zolpidem occurred in 2010.
- 60% of the overdoses were due from combining zolpidem with other substances.
When to Consult a Doctor
The following signs and symptoms can indicate an allergic reaction or another condition that requires medical attention:
- Skin rash.
- Trouble breathing.
- Chest pain.
One of the more serious effects of taking Ambien is developing a tolerance to the medication. If you have an increased tolerance to Ambien, you will notice that you need to frequently increase the size of your dosage if you want to feel the same effects that you did when you first took the drug.2
Another long-term effect of Ambien is insomnia. Consequently, many sufferers increase the size of their doses as they become tolerant to the medication, way may lead to overdose.
An overdose may present as extreme drowsiness or loss of consciousness.
Can You Become Dependent?
Ambien dependence occurs more rapidly in those who abuse the drug, but it can also affect those who take the medication regularly as prescribed. With continued use, you can develop a dependence on the drug so that you don’t feel like you can function without it and you experience withdrawal when you try to stop.
Once dependence takes hold, it can be extremely difficult to stop using without help because of the potential severity of the withdrawal syndrome.
Those who use the medication for a longer period can suffer from withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing the medication. These withdrawal symptoms can be quite dangerous and can include:2
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Stomach cramps.
- Panic attacks.
A professional rehab center can help you recover from your Ambien addiction. Additionally, these treatment centers can provide medically supervised detox to monitor a precarious period of withdrawal from the medication for those whose bodies have come to depend on Ambien. Supervised detox can help lessen the severity of the withdrawal effects, make you feel as comfortable as possible, and, most importantly, monitor you for any of the potentially life-threatening symptoms.
- United States. Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Drug Scheduling.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2008). Ambien: Highlights of Prescribing Information.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (May 1, 2013). Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Reactions Involving the Insomnia Medication Zolpidem. Rockville, MD.